Connect with us

Features

A Move towards a New Paradigm Shift?

Published

on

Draft Twentieth Amendment

by Dr. Dayanath Jayasuriya P. C.

Most social and political scientists are in agreement that in respect of several sectors Sri Lanka made significant progress under the Donoughmore system of government. The first State Council of Ceylon opened on July 7, 1931; an event held 89 years ago with much pomp and pageantry. The committee system had specific mandates and members nursed their electorates to win confidence to be reelected largely without political affiliations. The first independent constitution, drafted with the assistance of Sir Ivor Jennings, who became a close associate of D. S. Senanayake, followed basically the Westminster parliamentary model of democratic government with dual chambers and other changes. The Queen retained limited powers and was represented through a Governor.

Party politics continued to exert greater influence with language, religion and minority rights gaining more currency. In the early 1970s, nationalist sentiments called for a ‘home-spun’ constitution. The first casualty was the appeals to the Privy Council. This was essentially a precursor to adopting a new constitution through an informal assembly and bypassing the entrenched provisions in the independent constitution. In 1972, the country became a full-fledged democratic Republic, known as Sri Lanka, severing all links with the British monarch. With a change of government in 1977, the process of drafting a new constitution began. The new Constitution has since been amended 19 times giving rise to its description as a ‘periodical’ in bookshops and libraries in the U. K.

The period from 1948 to 2020 has witnessed many changes and developments. Besides the well known youth insurrections and a 30-year war against an attempt to set up a separate state, several Prime Ministers and Presidents, together with their respective ministers and party members, have initiated movements and projects to develop the country. Resettlement schemes of D. S. Senananyke; prominence to Sinhala as the main language by S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike; the green revolution of Dudley Senanayake; the nationalization of schools and the popularization of the non-alignment movement by Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike; liberalization of the economy by J. R. Jayewardene; housing projects for the homeless by Premadasa; institutional capacity-building by Mrs. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga; and construction of highways and building of harbours, airport and a new Port City by Mahinda Rajapaksa are only a few examples that readily come to mind.

However, it cannot be gainsaid that all these were an unqualified success story; some led to or took place during a train of unpleasant events which still haunt the country such as the rights of minorities, the huge external debt etc. From the early 1980s, the ethnic war diverted attention from more pressing social issues and was a drain on the economic resources, not to mention the huge loss of life or disabilities of youth in their prime. The April 21 Easter Sunday attacks by militant Muslim groups have added a new dimension to the problems to be resolved in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society. Highly qualified professionals migrated seeking greener pastures and the country lost the benefit of their services.

The country’s economic plight was neatly summarized by W. A. Wijeywardena, a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank:

“Sri Lanka’s economy today is in a deep mess. Even after seven decades of independent rule, the country has not been able to push itself up to the level of a rich country. Over the entire post-independence period, the country had had a meagre economic growth of about 4.5% on average. That was pretty below the growth rate of 9% needed for raising the country to the status of a rich country within a few decades. Hence, all governments in the post-independence period are responsible for this malaise. Beginning from 2013, over the last seven-year period, the situation further deteriorated. Symptoms were manifested by falling growth rates, stagnant exports, mounting external debt, rising recourse to commercial borrowings, falling in government revenue, stubborn budget deficits, stagnant capital formation, high inflation though at mid-single digit level over the world inflation and pressure for exchange rate to depreciate…” (Daily FT 8 September 2020).

The 19th amendment was a hastily prepared piece of legislation which was not subjected to close scrutiny by politicians, lawyers or political scientists. Soon thereafter there was no love lost between the President and the Prime Minister who came from different political parties. A Supreme Court ruling effectively prevented the removal and replacement of the Prime Minister and the premature dissolution of the Parliament. The judgment placed great emphasis on the nebulous concept of ‘sovereignty of the people’ and some 15 President’s Counsel who appeared in the case paid lip service to the more important and salient concept of ‘separation of powers’.

In August 2020, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s party gained a landslide two-thirds majority with a mandate to amend or replace the 19th amendment and/or to introduce a new constitution. The ruling party has opted to introduce a new 20th amendment repealing some provisions in the 19th amendment but retaining certain provisions and appointed a committee of experts to draft a new constitution. A few members of the Buddhist clergy are unhappy that a non-Buddhist is heading the Committee but these fears are unfounded as there are other members and the committee’s mandate in only to submit a draft which would then be subject to public, parliamentary and judicial review before becoming law.

The paramount need to amend the 19th amendment to the Constitution apparently arises from the fact that two Presidents have found it difficult without full powers to achieve their intended policy goals. On two occasions a President and a Prime Minister from different political alliances found that what was to be a holy matrimony soon ended as an unholy deadlock. The appointment by President Sirisena of a non-national as the Governor of the Central Bank at the insistence of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe led to an unprecedented financial disaster tarnishing the reputation and integrity of the Central Bank. In at least two so-called independent commissions established under the 19th amendment to the Constitution. we saw certain members airing private views in public when they were expected to act discreetly.

Untrammeled presidential powers seem to be the golden key that anyone in power hopes will help to open the door to unleash the development process. The draft provides, inter alia, for the President exclusive powers to make high-level appointments of his choice. Parliament can be dissolved within a minimum of one year- a departure from the bizarre provision in the 18th amendment which provided for a four and a half year period. It was bizarre for the reason that if all members of Parliament resigned and no replacements were made, the President would still be obliged to complete the four and a half year period before calling for fresh elections! No piece of legislation is perfect but the 19th amendment leaves more to be desired than any previous amendment to the Constitution.

Already many criticisms have been leveled against certain draft proposals. For instance, much has been said about the proposal to grant dual citizens to enter Parliament. Even though it is speculated that this is intended to accommodate a related party who is currently debarred from being accommodated, there is no logical reason to exclude dual citizens from holding political office if the country were to benefit from their expertise and knowledge. A second chamber, the Senate, was envisioned under the Soulbury Constitution to give a place of importance to distinguished individuals who were reluctant to contest but could otherwise contribute to the nation’s decision-making process. Ideally, the 20th amendment should provide for dual citizen to hold not only political office but also office in public service and academia. We may hopefully be able to see more academics who are now overseas return to upgrade the knowledge and skills of students.

In the 1950’s and 1960’s, Sri Lanka was an exemplary developmental model studied by other countries such as Singapore and Malaysia. Today, the situation is just the opposite. Using current global indicators measuring corruption-free administration; ease of doing business; control over drugs of abuse, tobacco and alcohol; attracting foreign investments etc., Sri Lanka has fallen far behind most nations of the world. Successive governments and opposition members of Parliament and public servants must take much of the blame for inaction, short-sighted policies and running dysfunctional institutions.

Lord Acton, expressed the following opinion in a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887:

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”

The challenge for any new President now is to emerge as a great and good man, thus proving that Lord Acton was wrong as far as his statement is concerned. Dharma Asoka the Great was known to have been a benevolent dictator under whose rule much good had taken place in India during his time. He is said to have followed the ten precepts (Dasa Raja Dharma) outlined by Lord Buddha himself as the duty of a perfect ruler, namely

1. To be liberal and avoid selfishness

2. To maintain a high moral character

3. To be prepared to sacrifice one’s own pleasure for the well-being of the subjects

4. To be honest and maintain absolute integrity

5. To be kind and gentle

6. To lead a simple life for the subjects to emulate

7. To be free from hatred of any kind

8. To exercise non-violence

9. To practice patience

10. To respect public opinion to promote peace and harmony

In plural societies such as ours, it is important that the achievement of peace and harmony must gain the top most priority. It behoves all religious and national leaders to move away from their narrow comfort zones and adopt a holistic approach and do whatever is possible to make Sri Lanka as one modern united nation that proudly belongs to all of us after 72 years of independence.

(The writer was conferred a Ph.D. by the University of Colombo for his work on ’Mechanics of Constitutional Change: The Sri Lankan Style’. After a career as an international civil servant he returned to Sri Lanka and served as Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Insurance Board and as a member of the Public Utilities Commission and the National Procurement Commission. In December 2005 in accordance with a general circular from the Office of the P.M. he relinquished all these positions.)



Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Features

Mindset changes and the dangerous ‘Religious War’ rhetoric

Published

on

Israeli border police on patrol at the Damascus Gate in occupied East Jerusalem (Pic courtesy Al Jazeera)

Nothing could be more vital at present in the conflict and war zones of the world than positive mindset changes and the wish of the humanist is likely to be that such momentous developments would quickly come to pass in particularly the Middle East. Because in the latter theatre almost every passing hour surfaces problems that call for more than average peace-making capabilities for their resolution.

For instance, the Islamic Supreme Fatwa Council in Palestine has reportedly warned of a ‘Religious War’ in the wake of recent allegations that Israel is planning to prevent the Muslim community from having access to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem in the month of Ramadan. If true, this development is likely to further compound the Gaza violence and take it along an even more treacherous track. This is on account of the fact that religious passions, if not managed effectively, could prove most volatile and destructive.

As pointed out in this column previously, peace movements on both sides of the main divide in the region would need to quickly activate themselves, link-up and work as one towards the de-escalation of the conflict. What the Middle East and the world’s other war zones urgently need are persons and groups who are endowed with a pro-peace mind set who could work towards an elimination of the destructive attitudes that are instrumental in keeping the conflicts concerned raging.

This could prove an uphill task in the Middle East in particular. For, every passing minute in the region is seeing a hardening of attitudes on both sides in the wake of issues growing out of the violence. Accordingly, if peace-making is to be contemplated by the more moderate sections in the conflict, first, we need to see a lull in the violence. Achieving such a de-escalation in the violence has emerged as a foremost need for the region.

Right now, the Israeli state is showing no signs of climbing down from its position of seeing a decisive end to the Hamas militants and their support bases and going forward this policy stance could get in the way of de-escalating the violence even to a degree.

On the other hand, it would not be realistic on the part of the world community to expect a mindset change among Israeli government quarters and their supporters unless and until the security of the Israeli state is ensured on a permanent basis. Ideally, the world should be united on the position that Israel’s security is non-negotiable; this could be considered a veritable cornerstone of Middle East peace.

Interestingly, the Sri Lankan state seems to have come round to the above view on a Middle East peace settlement. Prior to the Ranil Wickremesinghe regime taking this stance, this columnist called repeatedly over the past few months in this commentary, in fact since October 7th last year, for the adoption of such a policy. That is, a peace settlement that accords priority to also the security needs of the Israelis. It was indicated that ensuring the security and stability of the Palestinians only would fall short of a comprehensive settlement of the Middle East imbroglio.

However, in the case of the Ranil Wickremesinghe regime, the above change in policy seems to be dictated almost wholly by economic survival considerations rather than by any well thought out principle or a sense of fairness to all relevant stakeholders.

For example, close on the heels of the regime playing host to the Israeli Transport Minister recently, it accorded a reverential welcome to the Iranian Foreign Minister as well. From the viewpoint of a small country struggling to survive, this is the way to go, since it needs every morsel of economic assistance and succour.

However, if permanent peace is to have a chance in the Middle East it would need to be based on the principle of justice to all the main parties to the conflict. Seen from this point of view, justice and fairness should be accorded to the Palestinians as well as the Israelis. Both parties, that is, should live within stable states.

The immediate need, though, is to at least bring a lull to the fighting. This will enable the Palestinian population in the Gaza to access humanitarian assistance and other essential needs. Besides, it could have the all-important effect of tempering hostile attitudes on both sides of the divide.

The US is currently calling for a ‘temporary ceasefire’ to the conflict, but the challenge before Washington is to get the Israeli side to agree to it. If the Israeli Prime Minister’s recent pronouncements are anything to go by, the US proposal is unlikely to make any impression on Tel Aviv. In other words, the Israeli Right is remaining an obstacle to a ceasefire or even some form of temporary relief for the affected populations, leave alone a political solution. However, changing their government is entirely a matter for the Israeli people.

Accordingly, if a stable peace is to be arrived at, hostile, dogmatic attitudes on both sides may need to be eased out permanently. Ideally, both sides should see themselves as having a common future in a peacefully shared territory.

Peace groups and moderate opinion should be at centre stage on both sides of the divide in the region for the facilitation of such envisaged positive changes. The UN and democratic opinion worldwide should take it upon themselves to raise awareness among both communities on the need for a political solution. They should consider it incumbent upon themselves to work proactively with peace groups in the region.

The world is a vast distance from the stage when both parties to the conflict could even toy with the idea of reconciliation. Because reconciliation anywhere requires the relevant antagonists to begin by saying, ‘I am sorry for harming you.’ This is unthinkable currently, considering the enmity and acrimony that have built up over the years among the volatile sections of both communities.

However, relevant UN agencies and global democratic opinion could begin by convincing the warring sections that unless they cooperate and coexist, mutual annihilation could be their lot. Mindset changes of this kind are the only guarantors of lasting peace and mindset changes need to be worked on untiringly.

As this is being written, the ICJ is hearing representations from numerous countries on the Middle East situation. The opinions aired thus far are lopsided in that they do not present the Israeli viewpoint on the conflict. If a fair solution is to be arrived at to the conflict Israel’s concerns too would need to be taken into account expeditiously.

Continue Reading

Features

Dubai scene brightening up for SL fashion designers

Published

on

Sri Lankans are lighting up the scene in Dubai, not only as musicians, but in other fields, as well.

At the recently held Ceylon Food Festival, in Dubai, a fashion show was held, with Sri Lankan designers doing the needful.

The fashion show highlighted the creations of Pubudu Jayasinghe, Tehani Rukshika and Peshala Rasanganee Wickramasuriya, in three different segments, with each designer assigned 10 models.

The fashion show was choreographed by Shashi Kaluarachchi, who won the Miss Supermodel Globe International 2020, held in India, and was 1st runner-up at the Mr., Miss and Mrs. Sri Lanka, in Dubai.

Shashi says she was trained by Brian Karkoven and his know-how gave her a good start to her modelling career.

She has done many fashions shows in Sri Lanka, as well as in Dubai, and has worked with many pioneers in the fashion designing field.

The designers involved in the fashion show, in Dubai, were:

Pubudu Jayasinghe,

a 22-year-old creative and skilled makeup artist and nail technician. With a wealth of experience gained from working in various salons and participating in makeup and fashion projects in both Dubai and Sri Lanka, he has honed his talents in the beauty industry. Passionate about fashion, Pubudu has also acquired knowledge and experience in fashion designing, modelling, and choreography, showcasing his multifaceted expertise in the dynamic world of fashion.

Tehani Rukshika,

who studied at St Joseph’s Girls School, Nugegoda, says she went to Dubai, where her mom works, and joined the Westford University in fashion designing faculty for her Masters. Her very first fashion show was a Sri Lankan cultural event, called ‘Batik’. “This was my first event, and a special one, too, as my mom was modelling an Arabic Batik dress.”

Shashi Kaluarachchi

Peshala Rasanganee Wickramasuriya

has been living in Dubai for the past 21 years and has a batik shop in Dubai, called 20Step.

According to Shashi, who is on vacation in Sri Lanka, at the moment, there will be more Sri Lankan fashion shows in Dubai, highlighting the creations of Sri Lankan designers.

Continue Reading

Features

A mask of DATES…

Published

on

Yes, another one of my favourites…dates, and they are freely available here, so you don’t need to go searching for this item. And they are reasonably priced, too.

Okay, readers, let’s do it…with dates, of course – making a mask that will leave your skin feeling refreshed, and glowing

To make this mask, you will need 03-04 dates, and 02 tablespoons of milk.

Remove the seeds and soak the dates, in warm milk, for about 20 minutes. This method will soften the dates and make them easier to blend.

After the 20 minutes is up, put the dates in a blender and blend until you have a smooth paste. Check to make sure there are no lumps, or chunks, left.

Add the 02 tablespoons of milk to the blended date paste and mix well.

Okay, now gently apply this mixture to your face, avoiding the eye area. Use your fingertips, or a clean brush, to evenly distribute the mask all over your face.

Once the mask is applied, find a comfortable place to sit, or lie down. Relax for about 15-20 minutes, allowing the mask to work its magic on your skin.

After the mentioned time has passed, rinse off the mask with lukewarm water. Gently massage your face while rinsing to exfoliate any dead skin cells.

After rinsing off the mask, pat dry your face with a soft towel, and then follow up with your favourite moisturizer to lock in the hydration and keep your skin moisturized.

Continue Reading

Trending